Common Heating Systems

In Alaska, the indigenous Eskimos (or Inuit) basically heat their igloos with only body heat and a little light that burns seal fat.  In Australia, they don’t really even have systems, just gas outlets for people to plug little heaters into the wall here and there. In New England, we have a variety of systems; furnaces, boilers, and pumps to name a few. When sitting in our living room, enjoying the big game, we’re not too concerned about how that heat gets to us, just that it does and that it follows us everywhere in the house.

That is why we call it…

Central Heating

While we stubbornly hold out turning our heat on in New England (but run a test to make sure it works) let’s take a look at a few of the common heating systems used in the area. (Because, if you do the test and discover your system is busted, it’s good to be in the know when shopping around)


Furnaces are how the majority of North American households’ heat. “This type of heating system is called a ducted warm-air or forced warm-air distribution system,” said Grand Master Plumber Greg Sheck. There are a few ways to fuel a furnace. Lucky for you, seal fat is not one of them, but we’ll cover fuel next time.

Basically, a furnace works by mixing fuel with air to create a fire. The flames heat an exchanger which produces hot air. The air is pushed by a furnace fan and forced through ductwork downstream of the heat exchanger. “These types of systems used to be big energy guzzlers, but as the demand for conservation has increased, the standards on furnaces have gone up dramatically,” said Sheck.


Instead of carrying heat in warm air like a furnace, boiler systems distribute heat in hot water which then gives up heat as it passes through radiators or other devices in rooms throughout the house. The cooler water then returns to the boiler to be reheated.

Long ago they used steam boilers which boiled water and then steam carried heat through the house, condensing to water in the radiators as it cools. This technology, although effective, was very inefficient. Today, boilers are considered top of the line in energy conservation, especially in on-demand systems and radiant heat components.

Heat Pumps

“Heat pumps are basically two-way air conditioners and are very popular,” said Sheck.

There are a few common types of heat pumps:

Air-source heat pumps use the outside air as the heat source in winter and heat sink in summer. Ground-source, or geothermal, heat pumps get their heat from the constant temperature underground. Ductless heat pumps distribute energy through refrigerant lines instead of water or air. Heat Pump are considered the wave of the future for energy conservation.

Now You Know

Those are a few of the common central heating systems you run into in today’s heating system market. If you were one of the unlucky few who discovered they had a bum system while running your early fall “Is this thing on” test, call Greg and Brandon today, they can go over more specifics about which system would be best for your home.

Next upWhat do we feed this thing? Typical fuel sources for the typical heating system and which one works best for which. (Say that five times fast)